By Isaac Grace
“Home” for MISSIONARY KIDS
What is home? A place? A specific group of people, perhaps? Who can say, or nail it down to one thing? I believe no one can, because no one who is still here can describe it. Home was lost to us when we could no longer walk with God. When we were cast out of the garden, we lost our home and we have been trying to find it ever since.
As someone who has spent most of their life with a fluid sense of home, it is possible that describing home from a third person perspective is a bit more feasible. I believe that the closest thing we can come to call a home on this earth, is family. They provide love and fill the spaces we name “home”. They make this world the closest thing to home many will experience.
But is that close enough? A house filled with people we love, or a place we know better than our own reflection—is that really home? I think it’s a shadow of a home to come, as marriage is a shadow of the relationship we are to have with Christ. Close, but no banana. No amount of cultural similarity or familiarity of streets and faces will quite get us there, however close it may be.
So, what is home then? Honestly I believe it is rather simple: home is the arms of our Savior. Now, the anticipation of and the taste of that home while here on this earth is the complicated part.
MY STORY AS A MISSIONARY KID
Coming back to the states permanently was a major transition, to say the least. I had too many odd experiences—and too few encouraging memories—to prompt my desire to return to the US after spending the majority of my childhood overseas. So, when I landed on the tarmac, I was nothing short of terrified. I had no desire to leave the plane and would have been perfectly happy to have gone back the way I had come. But God had led me that far, so why not jump into this new land of crazy people? Thus, I took my first step into the United States of America for the first time in five years.
I expected—and that was my first mistake. I expected to be welcomed by people who knew and loved me, or at least would like to. I also expected to jump into the local body of Christ and be poured into, and to have a great place to pour out and use the gifts God had given me. However, from my perspective, lives had no margin for a new relationship, no space for a new face. This was especially hard coming from a culture where, no matter what, one always made space for others just because they were human.
Very quickly, I began to hit more cultural barriers and differences. I think my first really big moment was the supermarket. It was just rows upon rows of stuff, and I couldn’t imagine trying to find anything in that horde. So, breathing hard, I took a mental step backwards and left the store. Church was just as impossible. It was loud, I was lost in the crowd, and it felt so impersonal compared to the intimate setting of a house church. It felt distant, and I struggled to be fed.
Culturally, I am mostly African, so I regularly offered things more than once to be polite. But to others it seemed more like badgering. Or the reverse, if I refused once to be polite, but really wanted to join in, I was expecting to be asked again. But I would not be, because I had just refused. Although this felt normal to everyone around me, to me it seemed like being passively rude.
THE BODY OF CHRIST FOR MISSIONARY KIDS
How can you be the body of Christ to returning missionary kids (MK’s)? Honestly, there are so many things that jump to mind. But if I had to bring it down to a few suggestions I would say: be intentional and patient. MK’s have just lost their homes. While it may seem like they are returning “home,” they are likely going to feel like they are in a very new and strange place. In some ways they feel just as rootless refugees. It will take a lot of time for them to learn the cultural nuances and be comfortable with people, so try to be patient and gracious.
For example, sometimes I feel the urge to tell someone that they have put on a few pounds since I last saw them—which is a compliment in Africa! But I have to remember that in this culture, that’s not a kind thing to say. It will take time and they won’t catch everything that comes out of their mouths, but in my experience they are generally not trying to offend.
It has taken months and I know I will never fully come around, but I am beginning to see a lot of good in this culture, even in places where I once only saw things to be feared and frowned upon. This is because of the grace of God in opening my eyes. And it’s also because of the kindness of people who would take the time to listen, be patient, and extend a little love to someone in need.